Friday Five: Songs Tenuously Related to Herman Melville

Juli Thanki | July 31st, 2009

Break out the gifts and Fudgie the Whale ice cream cake: tomorrow is Herman Melville’s 190th birthday!

Melville may be the bane of anyone who’s ever taken a sophomore English class, but I’m kinda fond of the guy. Unfortunately there are very few country songs about nineteenth century whaling practices, mutiny, South Seas adventure, incest, fears of cannibalism, or thinly veiled homoeroticism. Thus, we salute Herman the best way we can: with five songs only tenuously related to his body of literature. Give these songs a listen…unless you’d prefer not to.

  • ernest-tubb-semans-blues5. “Seaman’s Blues” by Ernest Tubb
    This poor seaman on an Italy-bound tanker longs to be back home in Texas. Why? The ocean nights are so lonely, with “no lovin’ for so long.” Quit your complaining, Ernest. It’s not like you’re at the mercy of a vengeful amputee sea captain, you big whiner.
  • 4. “Squid Jiggin’ Ground” by Hank Snow
    Squid, whales…they’re both slimy ocean creatures. Like Moby-Dick “Squid Jiggin’ Ground” offers a wealth of information about the art of squid jiggin’, a form of hunting that is only for the manliest of men—if you’re fond of fancy white clothes and silk hankies, Snow says you better stay away.
  • tony-ric-the-wreck3. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Tony Rice
    Rice masterfully covers the Gordon Lightfoot classic here with only the sparsest guitar accompaniment. Melville was no stranger to writing “ripped from the headlines” literature—in addition to Typee which borrowed from his own experience, the fate of Moby-Dick’s Pequod was based on the tragedy of the whaleship Essex in 1820—so it seems safe to say that he would have appreciated this song.
  • tim-obrien-deep-sea2. “What Does the Deep Sea Say?” by Tim O’Brien
    O’Brien explores his Irish roots on the lovely album Two Journeys. This is a hopelessly depressing song about a woman mourning her lost sailor, asking the sea “is he sleeping peacefully/The winds from the north are blowing icy cold/Please keep him warm for me.”
  • moon-mullican1. “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone” by Moon Mullican
    Poor Moon Mullican. He builds a ship of dreams for his true love, only to have her dump his ass. He cites the sails she’s torn as a reason why his ship will sink, but c’mon: building a ship of dreams? How seaworthy is that?
  1. nm
    July 31, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Juli, you’re not thinking wide enough. There’s also Melville’s friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was a descendant of the Hathorne who was a judge at the Salem witch trials, so any song about witches is tenuously related. You could use “Witchy Woman” if you don’t consider the Eagles to be too tenuously related to country music.

    Or there’s the fact that Billy Budd is set in the British navy, so anything British could work. How about “Fox on the Run”? You can’t get more bluegrass than that, but it was originally a Manfred Mann song.

    Or … but you get the idea.

  2. Juli
    July 31, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Man, those tenuous relationships are everywhere!

    Stay tuned for my next edition of the Friday Five, “Songs with Lyrics.”

  3. nm
    July 31, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    I dunno, that one sounds like a toughie.

  4. Barry Mazor
    July 31, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    If we’re not limited to country for the salute, there’s the Led Zep “Moby Dick” and a band on the web somewhere named for Herman. Or Moby Grape’s greatest hits–which are sometimes nearly country.

  5. Barry Mazor
    July 31, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Oh, a a hundred folkies recorded the old ballad “Greenland Whale Fisheries”–which will do it, among other sometimes tedious sea shanties.

  6. J.R. Journey
    July 31, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    What, no Buffett?

  7. Drew
    July 31, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    Boo to Tony Rice, Lightfoot deserves the mention.

  8. Chris N.
    July 31, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    I come into Pittsburgh
    At six-thirty flat
    I found myself a vacant seat
    And I put down my hat
    “What’s the matter, Molly, dear,
    What’s the matter with your mound?”
    “What’s it to ya, Moby Dick?
    This is chicken town!”

  9. Rick
    July 31, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    Gosh, the only song even remotely about the sea and seafaring I can recall ever really liking was “Brandy” by “Looking Glass”. Well that and the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” song from the ride at Disneyland…

    PS – I never had to read Moby Dick in school. I think out teacher made us read “The Great Gatsby” instead which absolutely bored me to tears although unlike Shakespeare I could understand what was going on…

  10. Sam G.
    July 31, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Would anything by Or The Whale qualify?

  11. TexasVet
    July 31, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    How about “A Whale of a Tale” sung by Kirk Douglas in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

  12. Rick
    July 31, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    Northy, I want to commend you for posting a comment that in no way relates to Carrie Underwood! Good show! (lol)

  13. TexasVet
    July 31, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    “Northy, I want to commend you for posting a comment that in no way relates to Carrie Underwood! Good show! (lol)”

    I only post about her because I know you’re such a big fan! LOL!!

    While she’s on hiatus I’ve been listening to Ashton Shepherd, Emily West & Miranda Lambert.

  14. Rick
    August 1, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Well Northy, I’m with you on Ashton Shepherd and Emily West at least! (lol) You should check out the new Holly Williams’ CD “Here With Me” by viewing the music videos available for some of the songs. I think its the best major label release from a female artist so far this year (although I haven’t heard Lee Ann Womack’s most recent release).

  15. Rick
    August 1, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    And speaking of Ashton Shepherd, she will be on TONIGHT’s Opry just a couple of hours from when I posted this! Go Ashton!
    Opry Schedule:
    Listen Online At:

  16. TexasVet
    August 1, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Hey Rick,
    Thanks for the Ashton link!
    By the way, didn’t know you had your own radio show:


  17. Rick
    August 1, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Northy, Glenn Beck is actually pretty tame by my standards! Some have described me as being about as warm and fuzzy as Michael Savage (or a prickly pear cactus)! (lol)

    PS – Note that there is only ONE Opry show scheduled tonight which is pretty unheard of for a Saturday night during the summer tourist season. It seems country music loving tourists who like to head to Nashville for their summer vacation haven’t all heard Obama proclaim the recession is over….

  18. Ben Milam
    August 3, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    “if i had a boat” by lyle lovett

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